Anger: The Mismanaged Emotion

Sandra P. Thomas


Dermatology Nursing. 2003;15(4) 

In This Article

Causes and Manifestations

Why do people get angry? The author has conducted a program of research on anger since 1988, aimed at illuminating its causes, manifestations, and health consequences. Interest in the topic was sparked by a serendipitous finding of some gender differences between men and women in their ways of expressing anger (Thomas, 1989). After a literature search showed scant previous research on women's anger, a large-scale, comprehensive investigation was launched, guided by a conceptual model (Thomas, 1991). It was framed within the research strategy that Coward (1990) called "critical multiplism" (such as the use of multiple stakeholders to develop the research questions, probes of diverse issues within a single study, and multiple modes of data collection and analysis). In Phase I of the Women's Anger Study, conducted by a 14-member team from 1989 to 1991, an extensive battery of questionnaires was administered to more than 500 women, and new knowledge resulted about the correlations between women's anger and variables such as self-esteem, stress, and depression (Thomas, 1993).

Additionally, Phase I study participants were asked some open-ended questions about the precipitants of everyday anger episodes at home and work. Women's written responses to these questions were informative, but too brief to permit a thorough examination of the context in which anger episodes occurred and the complex meanings of these experiences. Thus, Phase II of the Women's Anger Study, conducted from 1993 to 1997, involved in-depth phenomenologic interviews with Caucasian women, African-American women, and French women living in France. These interviews yielded rich descriptions and deeper understanding of what women's anger is all about (duMont, Droppleman, Droppleman, & Thomas, 1999; Fields et al., 1998; Thomas, Smucker, & Droppleman, 1998).

Researchers learned that anger is a confusing emotion for women, intermingled with hurt and disillusionment. It is generated in their most important intimate relationships; women tell stories about family members, co-workers, and friends who have let them down in significant ways or expect too much from them. Violations of a woman's core values, beliefs, or principles provoke her angry feelings. But her anger, even when produced by a substantive violation, is often inhibited for fear of damaging relationships. The following example from the data is illustrative:

"I'm always angry with my father...[He] had an affair with another woman for 4 years before my mother found out about it...I'm still mad at him...I would never talk to my father about it...It'd be awful. He'd be angry with me...I walk on eggshells around him all the time. I try not to make him mad if I can" (Thomas et al., 1998, p. 316).


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